Allyson A., Gilbert, AZ
In my life, I have yet to meet a physician or surgeon who is so wholly committed to easing the fear of his patient while at the same time staying focused on erasing their pain through innovative, non-invasive surgery. Can you imagine? Effective, non-invasive brain surgery? Through Dr. Shahinian and his colleagues at the Skull Base Institute this is not a fantasy, but a reality.
I am a 40-year-old wife and mother of three. Several years ago, I was in college attempting to finish my degree. I had a 4.0 grade average, but suddenly I was finding it difficult to remember anything I had read or been lectured on. A few months later, I went to see a neurologist. I assumed my memory lapses had something to do with an increase in my headaches and migraines. Additionally, I had been suffering from vertigo that my primary care physician believed to be sinus related. After an MRI, it was determined that I had a brain tumor in the left temporal lobe that measured approximately 4cm. At this point, my neurologist sent me for additional testing which had included a detailed hearing and visual test. The results indicated I had a substantial hearing loss in my left ear, but no visual disturbances were noted. I was then referred to Barrow Neurological Institute here in Arizona.
After waiting several weeks for an appointment, I met a neurosurgeon at Barrow. After reviewing my MRI and results from other testing, the surgeon believed that surgery would be required and that most likely I was suffering from an acoustic neuroma or meningioma. His chosen course of action for surgery would be to remove the tumor via an open craniotomy. The incision would be made below my ear and my skull would be pulled back. While this would render me deaf in my left ear, it would provide the best view for the surgeon and require the least amount of retraction of the brain. I could expect some facial numbness or paralysis due to the nerves in that area of the brain being stretched during retraction. In most cases, the problem should correct itself within 6 months, but the hearing loss would be permanent. I could expect to be in the ICU for 3 to 5 days with a total hospital stay of 7 to 14 days. Additionally, the surgeon wanted time to review my file with his colleagues prior to scheduling surgery. He felt he needed input from his colleagues to ascertain what type of tumor I had, as he didn’t feel comfortable with making a final surgical decision until the consensus was reached.
Well, my husband had other ideas. He first thoroughly researched meningiomas and acoustic neuromas. After gathering as much information as possible, he then started searching for clinics and surgeons who specialize in those types of surgeries. The one clinic that had experience dealing with both of these types of tumors was the Skull Base Institute. His initial conversation with SBI left him feeling hopeful for the first time since this horrible odyssey began. I on the other hand, was skeptical. After all, Barrow is a household name (at least in Arizona), and I had never heard of the Skull Base Institute. Both my husband and I pored over literature sent to us by SBI and visited their website faithfully
My husband and I flew to Los Angeles to meet Dr. Shahinian and his staff. Dr. Shahinian reviewed my MRI. He believed it was a benign meningioma rather than an acoustic neuroma based on the location of the tumor and my symptoms. His stance confirmed our belief after poring over the information we had gathered ourselves. However, he further advised that no surgeon could really be certain until the tumor was biopsied and if any surgeon claimed otherwise, you should be wary. He discussed the surgery in great detail, and both of us were thrilled to learn that I at least had hope that my hearing would not be destroyed by the surgery, as he would not be performing an open craniotomy. Our first meeting with Dr. Shahinian lasted two hours, and while we knew he was busy, he never made us feel rushed. Now it was my turn to feel hopeful. After speaking with Dr. Shahinian for two hours, I was willing to put my life in his hands. I felt like I had been on death row and had just received a pardon.
Looking back, I can’t believe I was so calm and sure of my decision, but Dr. Shahinian helped put my fears at ease. It is hard to describe his presence and demeanor because it is larger than life yet at the same time humble and human. I told my family and friends that I met a surgeon who knew he had a gift from God, but held it in his hands like a fragile shell. He was exuberant and proud of his cutting-edge technology, but didn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal: to remove my tumor while causing me the least amount of pain and suffering. He is the perfect mix of a surgeon who is arrogant enough to make you feel confident in his skill, but human enough to make you comfortable putting your life in his hands.
While Dr. Shahinian let us know a biopsy of the tumor was the only sure way to determine the tumor type, he wasn’t afraid to give us his position immediately after reviewing my findings. He had given me answers, understood the urgency of a patient with a brain tumor and could schedule surgery without delay. His commitment to getting this behind me and getting me back to my life was compelling. Yes, this was the doctor and the facility for me. I again had hope.
That December, I checked in for surgery with Dr. Shahinian. I was given IV sedatives about an hour after checking into the hospital and the next thing I remember is waking up in ICU. I was in and out of consciousness for the rest of the day. Later in the evening, Dr. Shahinian checked in on me and advised the staff that I was to be up and walking soon. The next morning, I was in the process of being transferred out of the ICU into a private recovery room. Dr. Shahinian again checked in on me and was dismayed that I had not yet been up and walking. Within hours of getting to my private room I was up and walking the halls. I did this several times during the day. My pain had subsided greatly and I no longer receiving morphine. I rested well that day, and my only complaint was nausea. The next morning Dr. Shahinian visited again to give me good news. During my surgery, an audiologist was present to continually test my hearing. Not only was my hearing saved, but my hearing had returned to normal. Within two days of brain surgery, I was on a plane back to Arizona with my tumor gone, my hearing improved and my facial function intact.
My recovery was so unremarkable it was remarkable. Once home, my chief complaint was nausea and vomiting. This is due to the fact that I have severe GERD and between my nerves and the pain medication, it flared up drastically. Two weeks post-surgery found me pain- and medication-free. Weeks three and four found me feeling pretty much back to normal sans the driving and exercising restrictions. Within six weeks, my life was back on track and I was ready to face anything.
I was ready to greet the world as if there had never been a tumor in my brain. That is nothing short of a miracle. Yet I know there were no miracles at work. Yes, there was the vision and skill of a fine man and a brilliant surgeon, but no miracle. I have a plate the size of a quarter in my skull rather than a six-by-six-inch plate, but no miracle. I have full facial function with no numbness rather than facial paralysis, but no miracle. My fate was not decided by miracles. It was decided by the dedication of two men: my husband, David (for his tireless dedication to finding the best surgeon) and this medical pioneer, Hrayr Shahinian.
I am here today, a college graduate who is symptom- and tumor-free because of Dr. Shahinian and his vision. While my surgery and recovery are not miracles, finding Dr. Shahinian was my miracle.
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